9th November 2015
It is now over three months since planning minister Brandon Lewis set the clock ticking when he threatened local planning authorities with Government intervention if their local plans could not be produced by early 2017. Everyone wants to see a plan-led system working properly, giving long-term certainty to housing supply. At this point though, only 30 percent had produced a Local Plan since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.
How have local authorities responded since this statement? Only three more Local Plans have been adopted in this time (for the London Borough of Hounslow; Gosport; and West Dorset, Weymouth & Portland) and three more found ‘sound’. This is similar rate of progress to before the minister’s statement. Hardly surprising perhaps, given that the announcement was not accompanied by any changes to the lengthy adoption process, and at a time of unprecedented cuts to local authority budgets.
But what will happen in 2017, when there are likely to be many local authorities that have not adopted an up-to-date Local Plan?
The Home Builders Federation (HBF) recently suggested that this intervention may be triggered as early as 1 January 2017 and that the Government has targeted 35 local authorities1. This begs the question as to what is meant by ‘producing’ a local plan, and how recent such a plan must be.
There are currently 60 local authorities (16 percent) that have not yet published a plan for consultation following the 2004 Planning Act and 244 (67 percent) that have not published post- NPPF. If only 35 authorities are to be targeted, then this suggests that the Government’s focus will, at least initially, be very narrow. Otherwise, the Government will be faced with an unmanageable number of authorities with Local Plans that pre-date the NPPF, and who may not have demonstrated a five-year housing supply.
In the meantime, there is devolution. Some new city region authorities in the North of England are seeking growth that is greater than current objectively assessed needs. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority this week published an options report that seeks to increase housing supply by up to 55 percent more than current identified supply.
If the scale of the challenge does remain too great for effective central intervention, then there is at least the promise offered by Communities Secretary Greg Clark’s letter to the Planning Inspectorate (21 July). This allowed plans to be adopted even if they had “shortcomings that are not critical to the whole plan”, provided these were the subject of an “early review”. However, what is typically holding back Local Plans is the need to demonstrate a five-year housing supply. This is critical and, consequently, the early review option may offer little real benefit.
A patchwork of approaches
So the 2017 deadline may make little difference to restoring the primacy of Local Plans. In the meantime, housing need figures are likely to shift upwards whilst supply is likely to be led by applications and appeals as much as by the pro-active authorities that have up-to-date plans and are allocating sites. In our Greater Manchester example a Green Belt review is underway, promising some real decisions and a plan-led, long term approach.
We should, perhaps, therefore expect a patchwork of approaches, dependent on local authorities’ devolved powers and their ability to adopt up-to-date plans. This is a long way from the plan-led system that we might have hoped for.
For more information contact Simon Peake, Associate Planner, firstname.lastname@example.org or 0161 874 8742
1 HBF Midlands Forum, 20 October 2015